World Cup Countries by Population

Hong Kong, with 7.2 million people and a FIFA ranking in the 100s or so is nowhere near getting into the World Cup Finals this year, but it got me wondering if it is just a matter of not enough people to field a team or something else.  So I did a bit of Googling and came up with this list of countries in the World Cup finals, ranked by population.

in millions

USA 318.2
Brazil 202
Nigeria 173.6
Russia 146
Japan 127
Mexico 119.7
Germany 80.7
Iran 77.5
France 65.9
Italy 60.9
England 53
Korea 50
Colombia 47.7
Spain 46.9
Argentina 42.6
Algeria 38.7
Ghana 27
Australia 23.5
Ivory Coast 23.2
Cameroon 20.5
Chile 17.6
Holland 16.7
Ecuador 15.7
Belgium 11.1
Greece 10.8
Portugal 10.4
Honduras 8.5
Switzerland 8.1
Hong Kong 7.2
Costa Rica 4.66
Croatia 4.2
Bosnia-Herzegovina 3.79
Uruguay 3.2

 

 

Would be interesting to do a list of countries by number of soccer pitches. I think HK would be at the bottom of that one, probably even behind Vatican City and Monaco.

The US Census did an interesting graphic on the World Cup and population. Let me see if I can get that in here too.

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USA World Cup Tiebreaker Scenarios in Group G

800px-Tim_Howard_USAWow, things can get quite complicated in the World Cup in just a matter of seconds. With the USA losing a win in the last seconds, the scenarios for tiebreakers in the next round are quite complex.

Using this guide of World Cup Tie Breakers, I’ve tried to summarize the potential scenarios for each team. This is a work in progress so if I got it wrong expect an edit or update.

Germany is into the next round if:

Germany Wins, or

Germany draws, or

Portugal and Ghana draw, or

Germany loses and Ghana wins, with the change in goal difference being +6 to Ghana (i.e. Ghana wins by 3 & Germany loses by 3, etc), or

Germany loses and Portugal wins, with the change in goal difference being +9 to Portugal (i.e. Portugal wins by 5 & Germany loses by 4, etc, or

Germany loses, and Portugal or Ghana do not win by enough to overtake Germany on goal difference AND on total goals scored.

Germany loses and Portugal wins and all other tiebreakers are equal, Germany would progress on the fact they already beat Portugal.

Germany loses and Ghana wins and all other tiebreakers are equal, then they would flip a coin.

USA is into the next round if:

USA Wins, or

USA draws, or

Portugal and Ghana draw, or

USA loses and Ghana wins, with the change in goal difference being +3 to Ghana (i.e. Ghana wins by 2 & USA loses by 1, etc), or

USA loses and Portugal wins, with the change in goal difference being +6 to Portugal (i.e. Portugal wins by 5 & USA loses by 1, etc, or

USA loses, and Portugal or Ghana do not win by enough to overtake the USA on goal difference AND total goals scored.

USA loses and Ghana wins and all other tiebreakers are equal, the USA would progress on the fact they already beat Ghana.

USA loses and Portugal wins and all other tiebreakers are equal, then they would flip a coin.

Ghana is into the next round if:

Ghana wins and Germany loses,  with the change in goal difference being +6 to Ghana (i.e. Ghana wins by 3 & Germany loses by 3, etc), or

Ghana wins and the USA loses, with the change in goal difference being +3 to Ghana (i.e. Ghana wins by 2 & USA loses by 1, etc, or

Ghana wins and the USA or Germany loses, with the change in total goals scored enough to overtake the losing USA or Germany on total goals scored.

Ghana wins and Germany loses and the tiebreakers even out and Ghana wins a coin toss.

Overplay_WorldCup_Promo

Portugal is into the next round if:

Portugal wins and Germany loses,  with the change in goal difference being +9 to Portugal (i.e. Portugal wins by 5 & Germany loses by 4, etc), or

Portugal wins and the USA loses, with the change in goal difference being +6 to Portugal (i.e. Portugal wins by 2 & USA loses by 1, etc, or

Portugal wins and the USA or Germany loses, with the change in total goals scored enough to overtake the losing USA or Germany on total goals scored.

Portugal wins and the USA loses and the tiebreakers even out and Portugal wins a coin toss.

 

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What is it like to be the Arsenal Mascot?

It was a dark and stormy night.

Seriously, it was. It was pouring down rain and bitterly cold and the sun sets in London at about 3:00pm in the winter time making everything dreary, cold, damp, and miserable—save for the fact that tonight was my son’s chance to be the mascot for the Arsenal in the crosstown derby against Chelsea.

We got the call up, well, email from the Junior Gunners a few months prior. “Please have your parents contact us” said the email addressed to my son’s usually empty email account. I did and the words coming across seemed somewhat surreal. “Your son was selected to be the mascot”  “Does he accept?” “You’ll be getting the logistical details from us shortly”. I was bouncing off the walls and faintly recall the echo of my wife said “maybe we shouldn’t tell him—keep it as a surprise?” as I walked into his room screaming “We’re going to see the Arsenal!”

Of course there were some logistics that had to be swung into action. Although an American, we live in Hong Kong now and would have to coordinate not only the flights and accommodations for a trip over the Christmas holiday, but a few extra days to adjust to the jet lag as F@#$%#@$% Sky Sports decided to move the game to Monday Night at 8:00 PM London time (4:00am Hong Kong time). For a few days prior we tried to stay up late and get up early, all to no avail (and in case you are wondering, a jet lag coming from this direction in the middle of Winter was the most horrendous I’ve ever faced). On game day we woke at our normal 2:00am or so, played around, and then forced the kids back to sleep about 10:00am until waking them just prior to our 5:00pm departure time.

This wake up left us with one hour to get to the stadium, which was probably a mistake on my part. I did manage to show up at the media entrance exactly at 6:00pm, the required time for a mascot to arrive, only to have the steward say “this is the wrong entrance.”  Go this way and that and then around those things and down and….  Being a stupid guy I just grabbed my son and we dashed into the rain trying to figure it out as we go.  Ten minutes later in the midst of some Chelsea fans I decided to ask for direction. Luckily I found a fairly senior steward who knew exactly where we should be and we were off down a car park entrance to the underground bowels of the Emirates Stadium.

After a security check and several paper towels to dry off, we were met by the Arsenal mascot liaison who walked us into the car park, past the large grass-growing lights that are parked underneath when not in use. We approached the bus entrance where I saw Jill Smith, Arsenal Supporter’s Club liaison, doing her usual magic before the game sorting out dozens of different clubs making sure everyone was in the right place at the right time. We were then rushed into a small locker room for the mascot and other Arsenal employees where my son was given a brand new Arsenal kit. He wore a long sleeve white shirt underneath though because of the cold that night as only Flamini goes out with short sleeves in the winter.

IMG_1131 - Version 2Out we went as word came that the Chelsea bus was approaching. We managed to catch Jack Wilshere standing around serving his suspension for a certain hand gesture to the crowd, but he was still willing to snap a few pics with us and the Chelsea counterpart.

Then it was out to the bus arrival area. Our mascot liaison went over the procedure. Chelsea’s mascot in the front for Chelsea, my son in front for the Arsenal. Hold out your hand and wait for them to shake it. Not everyone will but don’t get upset. Just turn to the next guy and go from there.

Chelsea arrived first. My son, an avid collector of Match Attax trading cards, already knew every player getting off the bus, even a few the Chelsea mascot couldn’t recognize. He held out his hand and shocking hands / fist bumped the players coming in for the game.

We then took a quick walk around the arrival lobby. There was a Christmas tree up and a nice photo of all of the 49 games undefeated in one giant poster. David Beckham was in the grounds somewhere but we missed him in the lobby. Oh well.

Next up came word that Arsenal was arriving. This time my son was out front, shaking hands with the players as the fans on the sides were chanting out the chants for each one that arrived. Needless to say he had a pretty massive smile on his face.

With the teams given a few minutes to get into the locker room, we were then escorted to the tunnel entrance, where you see the teams in the pre-game, for a visit with the team. This was a mascot-only event, as he was escorted by a member of the playing staff (one of the coaches) who took him around to meet every single player as they were getting dressed. Dad’s had to stay in the lobby.  He got an autograph from every player on dad’s old Arsenal jersey we brought with us for just this occasion, and afterwards a nice photo of him with all the players arrived from the Arsenal photographers.

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With the meet and greet done, we were escorted onto an elevator up to the club level where we went inside a restaurant / club (the one you see on the tour for those who have taken it) for a sit-down and explanation of what to expect. This was a 15-minute run down of what to expect, step-by-step when you took the field with the team. We even practiced the ‘tap on the shoulder’ which meant the pictures were done and the turn toward the referee to start the handshake line. Afterwards my son had to seek out the Gunnersaur for a kick about, and then Rex would take him to the center circle for the photo op. As simple as this sounds, we did go over it quite a bit. The eyes of the world were watching after all.

If I can make just an aside here—it was at this point I realized how much bigger Arsenal has become since my days in the Highbury North Bank. The stadium, the staff, the overall ambience is so much “bigger” than it used to be. I always remarked how you used to be able to sit in the North Bank and look out to see the town houses around Highbury. It was just a part of the area, no big deal sort of. But now, in this monstrous stadium with staff everywhere and people and well—size—it was just kind of an epiphany about how “big” the club has become.

We finished up the walkthrough, took a few pictures, and went back down the elevator to the tunnel. It was time to take the field for the first time since arriving. We walked out into the lights and light mist and everything just glowed. Despite the deluge, the grass was fine. There wasn’t ‘mud’ or anything like that as the drainage was keeping the field in playing condition. We noticed Jose was on the field as well, checking the grass to see how it was doing in the rain. As he came off he actually posed for a few selfies with some Arsenal fans in the stands.

The players started to come out of the tunnel now for the pre-game warmup. Arsenal’s photographer came over and gathered my son for some one-on-one photos with the players on the filed. He selected four players and they chased them down as they went through the warm up. My son even got to take a shot against Szczesny.

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Lining up for his shot.

Lining up for his shot.



Following the photos, we were hustled back into the changing room for the last minute preparations. We packed up all of our items as we would not be coming back to this room after the start of the game. We then headed back to the tunnel entrance were the mascots were left to wait for the teams while the dads took up positions on the pitch to photograph the entrance onto the field.

From Sky replays I saw later, my son was stuck waiting for the Arsenal team for about two minutes while the Chelsea team was already in the tunnel ready to take the field. Arsenal came out a bit late, and my son was all there by himself. Twitter had many comments on this about the “lonely little Arsenal mascot all by himself” but his escort was just to the side, out of the camera’s view. He stood there holding the Arsenal banner looking back and forth at the Chelsea side who he had seen so many times before in his trading card binder. I later asked him what he was doing and he just said “looking around”. I asked if he was nervous and he told me he was having too much fun to be nervous.

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Arsenal eventually came out along with the referees. Mike Dean introduced himself to my son and patted him on the head (made a note to shave his head when we got home).  After a brief wait, they took to the field and commenced the grand entrance you see on TV. There were the handshakes and all that. I asked if anyone said anything like “good game” or anything like that and he said “no, they basically just grunted”.  He did his kick about and posed for the center circle photo before coming off the pitch with a huge smile on his face.

Screen Shot 2013-12-25 at 9.45.30 PM

We were then escorted to our seats from pitch level and my son turned to me “Dad, I want to do this every year!”

“Me too, son” I replied. “Me too”.

 

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Hydroponic vegetable grocery opens in Hong Kong

While walking through Causeway Bay and Wanchai the other day, I noticed a new store with a bright green color.  Farm Direct is a new grocery selling locally grown hydroponic food in the center of Hong Kong.

Given my interest in home hydroponics and my wife’s new found interest in food safety, following some rather silly stuff going on in the mainland, I went in to check out the crops.

They had a few types of lettuce and bok choy on offer, both items I’m hoping to grow in my own home setup once I get off my butt and get it running. They also had a few imported things like blue berries and tomatoes, but I decided to go only with the fresh local stuff.

I’m having my first salad tonight. Will see how it goes. If you want to check it out yourself, it’s at 425 Lockhart Road, at the border of Wanchai and Causeway Bay, just behind the Wanchai Fire Station.

Here’s a neat video I found about their farm in Fanling.

 

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Replacing the Peak Tram cable

Was walking past the Peak Tram station on Barker Road when I noticed something pretty odd. The cable that pulls the tram up to Victoria Peak was pulled off the tracks and laying on the road, in big segments.

Apparently this is “Spring Cleaning” week for the Peak Tram. Both carriages are in a state of repair at the stations, and the cable was hauled off and cut into smaller segments so that it could be trucked away.

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The cable is actually quite a few smaller cables twisted together.  I counted 6 coils wrapped around one. Each of the 6 coils had 19 strands inside. Sort of puts to ease the thought of the cable snapping one day.

IMG_5626 IMG_5632 IMG_5627 IMG_5636 IMG_5638

 

 

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How often should you clear your cookies?

Ann Gordon, via Wikimedia Commons

Ann Gordon, via Wikimedia Commons

So today is National Clear out your Browser Cookies and Cache day. January 14th. It’s a new holiday I just declared.

Actually it’s just a glitch. In an effort to scam another week out of a major paywall-protected newspaper I accidentally clicked the ‘remove all’ cookie option in my browser and deleted 3,285 cookies this morning. The last time I did this, about a year ago, it was 4,250 cookies that had been saved.

So how often should you be clearing your cookies?  Some people don’t accept cookies in the first place so let’s just ignore them for the time being. Some clear cookies daily, which seems a bit excessive to be honest.

Apparently there have been some studies. One conducted by Comscore showed that about 31% of people deleted cookies within 30 days.  Another by the Sun-Times said 45% within 30 days.

I’ve gone about six months.

So maybe I’ll just set a daylight savings time reminder–when we spring forward or fall back, I’ll clean the cookies in my browser. And change the batteries in my smoke detector (if I had one).

Or I’ll just keep clearing them every time I want to read the Telegraph or the Washington Post.

 

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Michael Palin in Hong Kong

Had a neat opportunity this week to meet up with Michael Palin, formerly one of the Monty Python crew and now a well-known world traveller and documentarian. He was in Hong Kong to promote his friends new opening at the Hong Kong Maritime Museum and also to do a book signing.

I managed to grab a few books, both Around the World in 80 Days and his recent book Brazil which I sent away as gifts. I also grabbed the Monty Python autobiography, which I had him sign to “The Dead Parrot”. He added “just resting” at the end. I then asked if he had seen the famous Nigerian Internet Scammer version of the Parrot Shop but he said he hadn’t. I told him to look it up on Youtube so maybe he’ll get around to it.



 

Pretty nice evening. Sometimes we do get some celebrities over here in this land of finance and shipping containers.IMG_3775

Go away kid you bother me.

Go away kid you bother me.

To the Dead Parrot, just resting.

To the Dead Parrot, just resting.

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Rental Cars in Hong Kong – A guide for Americans

There really isn’t much need in renting a car in Hong Kong. The public transit is good, and taxis are cheap and plentiful. If you are looking for something a bit classier, you can even get a car service to drive you basically all over the island and into nearby Shenzhen China if you want.

But sometimes you might want to drive just for the sake of driving–to bring back a little of that automotive-induced freedom that you had in the USA.  Just head out for the weekend listening to some American guitar rock and getting away from the chaos of living in one of the most crowded places on Earth.

Good luck with that.

IMG_2484

Not Hong Kong.

You’re driving in a city with roads laid down by the British (i.e. redefining stupidity in urban planning) with fellow drivers who, to put it lightly, haven’t been driving all that long, and then having to rent a car from an ‘American’ company run by a bunch of Germans.

Relaxing? Ha.

First things first: what’s in your passport, and what is in your wallet? If you are a visitor to Hong Kong, you can rent a car on your US drivers license relatively easily. However, if you are a resident, in possession of a Hong Kong ID card, you’re going to need a Hong Kong drivers license.

Renting a car has two familiar options, Hertz and Avis. But while the name and logo looks familiar, under the surface things are quite a bit different from renting in the USA. The forms are different, the concept of “collision damage waiver” non-existant, and the process far more complicated than the rather seamless operation you’ll encounter at even the smallest airport in the USA.

You’ll be asked for a very large deposit, something like $15,000-$60,000HKD ($2,000-$8,000 USD), that will be placed on your credit card at the time of rental. Be sure to tell your credit card company there might be a “hold” like this placed or you won’t even get out the door. There also isn’t really the concept of a “Collision Damage Waiver”–paying a little extra each day to cover the potential for scratches, nicks, and bumps. Instead they have a deductible of about $2,000USD that you are on the hook for right off the bat.

This means when you get your car, and when you return it, give it a thorough review. Looks for scratches, door dings, and other imperfections from the previous renter. Also check the rims as they often get scratched up by folks who are still learning how to park.  Unfortunately, given the size of the average parking space in Hong Kong, the chances of you getting a scratch or door ding is actually pretty high.

That’s an interesting point–there aren’t that many places to park on the island. Street parking is comical–essentially non-existant in many of the areas you want to visit, and parking garages, while they do exist, can be expensive and a bit of a maze. If I had to guesstimate, I’d say the average parking space gives you about 6-10 inches on either side of your car to fit in. That means no wildly throwing open the door when you arrive (something you might need to tell the kids about) as chances are you’ll be parking next to some wildly overpriced imported car.

It also means you have to figure out what to do with the car overnight. You can park it in your building, if you have a space, but most of the street parking doesn’t allow overnight parking, or if it does, requires you to be up and moved by 7:00am. Before we found a spot in my building, our rental cars would go back down to Central and stay the night in the IFC building or near the United Centre, where we found overnight spots for a flat “night” rate of about $70HKD. Most places take Octopus (and only Octopus) for parking so before you do a weekend rental you might want to top up your card with a few hundred dollars. You should also put a hundred or so in coins in your car for tolls, especially if you’ll be using the tunnels.

You won't find something like this from Hong Kong rental companies.

You won’t find something this nice from Hong Kong rental companies.

The choice of cars is generally pretty good, with a number of recent model Japanese imports such as Toyota and Honda. There are minivans available that fit upto 7, but if you are thinking of renting one and moving a couch or a bed you’d probably be better off renting a cargo van (the Hiace). If you really are out to impress someone, you can rent some higher end Mercedes and BMWs and the like, but for the price it’s probably easier to just hire a limo / car service for your business meeting / hot date.

Roads in Hong Kong were initially laid down by the British, which means, in short, it’s pretty stupid.  They are narrow, poorly marked, and likely to change to one way or two way at the drop of a hat. They also drive on the wrong side, which really isn’t as much of a problem once you get used to it, but you might find yourself thinking a bit backwards when it comes to “going around the block” (a maneuver that is necessitated by dropping off people and picking them up).  In the US you have this mental idea of ‘right-right-right’ and I’m back here again. But with the drivers on the wrong side it’s a left-left-left. Often times you can mis-plan things while heading down the road only to get to the end and find there is no way to cross over given the lines.

On the island, there are several routes in which you can get trapped–you’ll have to drive an additional 10-20 blocks just to turn around given the lack of turn lanes and one way streets. While trying to goto Sheung Wan one day I finally found a place to turn around in Kennedy Town. Yea, it can be like that.

One other point, lines. Lane discipline is strictly enforced, not just by the police but by the “rules of the road”. You’ll often see cars stopped on a road waiting to change lanes, despite open roads ahead, because at the point they are stopping it is the ‘last chance’ to change lanes without violating a solid line. While lane discipline and lines exist in the US and most people follow the rules, in big cities it’s a bit more lax than it is here.

Once you do get off the island, it’s probably a good idea to have some idea of where you are going. If you want to head up to Sai Kung for example, take a look at the map and the Google street view of some of the major turns you’ll encounter. Often times the roundabouts and other exits are not marked as well as you might hope, and you’ll be coming on these at a good clip and need to decide “yes/no” in a hurry.

If you do manage to get off the island, don’t forget that many places are a bit restricted for cars. Lantau is basically a no go, and some of the country parks will close off roads on the weekends for hikers. For example Monkey hill in Kowloon is a great day drive during the week, but during the weekend it gets nuts with the tourists illegally feeding the wild monkeys and them jumping all over the road. Probably better just to stay in the parking lot inside than attempt a drive down that path.

Eventually you’ll return the car and go through a bit of an inspection. If they see something they’ll flag it at the return and then call you in a day or so with an (overpriced) estimate for the repair. You’ll then hail a cab that smells like whatever the driver ate for lunch and head back home, remembering you once had a car in this city but are now back in taxi/bus/MTR hell.

 

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I just spent six months without Diet Coke: a geek on a diet.(UPDATED)

I gave up Diet Coke and it sucked, but I’m still doing it.

Diet-Coke

Six months ago and a few days more or less, I decided to go cold turkey on Diet Coke. I was easily 3-4 cans a day, and when you factor in a drink or two or three at a restaurant or pub, I was probably consuming 60-80 ozs (1175ml-2365ml) a day.

There are plenty of horror stories about diet drinks, but since most of them come from hyperbole-spewing hippies I generally ignore them. I’ve always preferred the science-based medicine approach to many things about health, and reading about “the corporate conspiracy” to put evil “high fructose corn syrup” in my drink just turns me off. Skeptics have attacked some of the studies here and here if you want more on the HFCS myths.

However, for me dumping diet soda was more of a behavioral thing than health. About 15 years ago, I decided as a New Years Resolution that I would give up french fries for one year. I did it (I’m very stubborn) despite eating fries quite a bit the year before and the year after. What I noticed wasn’t so much that I lost weight, but that not eating french fries was changing my overall diet choices. If I couldn’t have “fries with that”, I wasn’t ordering “that”–my trips to McDonalds decreased simply because I wasn’t having one of the three main items in burger-fries-Coke.

I wondered if giving up Diet Coke would have a similar effect.  What was the immediate impact of going cold turkey on Diet Coke?

I gained about 10 pounds.

Switching from Diet Coke to things like fresh-squeezed lemonade or orange juice increased the number of calories I was consuming quite a bit. I like my drinks to have a bit of a ‘kick’ to them and switching from Diet Coke to water instantly just wasn’t cutting it. I wanted some sort of taste as I ate some food.

When I stepped on the scale and it reached 208 lbs. Given my height, that worked out to a Body Mass Index of about 29.9 (with 30 being the official definition of ‘obese’). I decided it was time for a bigger change.

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First up was a new scale. My old scale varied wildly and I was relying on my memory of “I think I weighed that last week”. No, this is the Internet age. I needed an Internet scale, so I bought the Withings WS-50 Smart Body Analyzer.  It’s pretty awesome. It records my weight to my iPhone and to a website everytime I step on the scale. It also does an estimate of the percentage of body fat, heartbeat and even the ambient CO2 quality in the room (to help improve sleeping).

What it did for me was start to identify “trends” rather than just “weights”. As I’ve learned, your body weight changes a few pounds even in the matter of a single day. For me I was always one weight at bedtime and then about 1-2 lbs less when I woke in the morning. Seeing this as a trend over many days became far easier for me to understand.

In fact, having these data points and record were really essential to this whole effort. Knowing what I weighed and the effect of splurging or going on vacation to the USA (and eating crap for a few weeks) was something that I could visually see every single day and week as it was spelled out in a nice graph and tabular data. It almost became a bit of a game seeing how much I weighed and how much I had lost.

The second portion of my change came with my diet, and this was a big effort indeed.

I’ve used the calorie counting app LoseIt when it first came out to the iPhone. I was pretty good at calorie counting for a few months, but then came a new iPhone upgrade and I lost all my old data, thus deciding ‘screw this–back to McDonalds’. I decided to give LoseIt another chance and it has certainly grown with many new features and capabilities. I was also able to connect my Withings scale to Loseit’s reporting system, which made tracking even easier.

At first my diet was basically about getting under the recommended calories. Originally I just would eat less, even skipping a meal, but most diet advice advises against anything too dramatic. Slowly I came around to greater portion control and some dietary changes.

9323121011_c6c2fd2d77_zHelping me in this quest were some laboratory beakers now serving double-duty as glasses in my kitchen. I bought some 400ml and 250ml beakers from a laboratory supply company and now use those as glasses, able to accurately pour out an exact measurement of a drink everytime. Since most of the nutrition information in Hong Kong for liquids is based around 100ml (3.3 fl oz) that sort of became a unit in my mind of what I could and could not drink. Prior to the diet, I was drinking 300ml (9-10fl oz) of Orange Juice every morning. But this soon became half that size and I realized “I really don’t need that much to drink”.

I also made the switch to water. I hate drinking water. I mean, it’s just plain boring. Added to this was the cultural preference here for ‘room temperature’ water or even hot water, both of which I find basically disgusting. With our tiny fridge in our standard Hong Kong apartment, finding room for a few bottles of water turned into a bit of a battle, but eventually I was able to reclaim some space in there and now keep four or five bottles cold and ready throughout the day (I’ve had two already this morning).

I also began to “visualize” portions much easier. I set a mark in my bowl for what was 1 cup of Cheerios for example. I used this great visual food guide to start to understand “how much” food I was actually eating when I sat down. When you can “see” the portion size it makes dieting far easier than trying to measure out everything each time.

With this came some other changes. I started to realize that some items were more calories (quite a bit more) than others. For example, a tin of pineapples was a simply and quick snack, but if I got them “in syrup” I’d be consuming quite a few more calories than if I bought them “in juice”. Salad dressing was another killer. The regular stuff was five or six times the calories as a “fat free” variety, which, despite the horrific taste, became my new regular option. I also started experimenting with a few things that I’ve been told are good (i.e. fish) but which were always way down on my shopping list behind things I liked quite a bit better.

I didn’t necessarily change what I was eating. I still have an occasional treat of some chips or pretzels in the evening, and I even have a Cadbury bar in the kitchen. But whereas before I would eat an entire 250 calorie Cadbury Milk Chocolate in one go, now I might eat 1/8th of that as a square, once every couple of a days just as a treat (38 calories or so).

I also rediscovered foods from my youth, namely apples, oranges and grapes. Of course I’ve been eating them for years, but now that I have more a diet focus they have become regular items, even daily items. Again, there was a cultural shift required in my house. I grew up with fruits being stored in the fridge which made them both cold and extended their freshness, but the norm here is to keep them on the counter, room temperature, which doesn’t quite have the same ‘zing’ to it when you take a bite. After clearing some space in the fridge I now have a collection of fruits for snacks.

Third, exercise.

The third big change has been a recent development, but one that was necessary. We have a fully-kitted out work room in the building with treadmills, weight machines, stair climbers and an exercise bike. I’ve generally avoided it as much as possible, but now I make it a point to do an hour on the exercise bike every day. At first it was a painfully dreary experience, basically like watching a clock move as I saw the minutes countdown and the calories burned calculator move up, but that all I changed when I brought down my iPhone and iPad to keep me company. Now I had plenty of movies and TV shows to catch up on while exercising, and the time spent downstairs has flown by. I’ve watched all the episodes of Broadchurch, Quatermass, a couple seasons of Top Gear and even a few movies I’ve been remiss in seeing such as the Indian blockbuster “Three Idiots”. The latter was particularly good as when you are focusing on subtitles you don’t pay as much attention to the clock.

31LOMVqsQoL._SY450_I also have started to take a look at my general lifestyle. Am I getting out enough, walking and doing stairs rather than sitting and riding the elevators. I’m now tagged with a Fitbit One Wireless Activity Tracker on my belt at all times which is designed to remind me I need to take more steps everyday and also to tell me when I’ve taken so many that my daily ‘burn’ rate might be improved. Again, the integration of devices like this with systems like Loseit have been quite valuable, allowing me to track those extra steps and exercises that before were just lost in the wind.

The final big change has come with nutrition.

At first it was easiest to just count calories. I didn’t care how much sodium or protein I was eating, just let me get to that main goal. But as my diet became more regular and healthy, I took a look at improving the content of what I ate, not just the quantity.

Yes, I’ve heard of the “no carb” diets and whatnot, and at first blush it looked quite interesting, but falling back on my science-based medicine guidelines I discover that quite a bit of that is just a bunch of fluff. Low carb diets don’t pass muster when examined more closely, as you’ll see here and here, and while I tried it for a few days I eventually decided it just wasn’t worth it.

I am trying to reduce my sodium intake, as the levels I’m consuming are quite above the recommendations though still below the averages for US consumers. I’m also looking harder at the amount of fat I take in each day, trying to drop that down and improve the amount of protein consumed. It’s an ongoing battle.

Summary

So here is the big takeaway from my weight loss program: it takes time, discipline and effort.

The three things most dieters don’t have. But seriously, you have to work on it, daily, and consciously. Fad diets of “instant loss” while you sleep or eat just red meat for three months aren’t going to make the necessary changes you need. It’s just not that simple.

I know people want the easy way out, but you should think about those who have been told to diet for medical reasons. There is no easy solution. They have to do it “the hard way” because that is the way that is going to work and keep them alive. They aren’t going to cut corners when fighting some disease, so why should you think you can cut corners when just trying to lose weight?

My Results

So what do the results look like?

I started earlier this year at 208 lbs. Today I was hit 179.7 lbs (81.5kg). This is the first time I’ve been 180 since I can remember. When I started law school in 1995, I stepped on the scale and was shocked to discover I weight about 175lbs (I always though I was quite a bit less). When I left law school three years later I’m certain I was quite a bit more, well at least I looked quite a bit bigger.

My short-term goal is to get to 175.4 which is not only the weight I weighed in 1994, but also the borderline BMI between “normal” and “overweight”. If I could get under the “overweight” BMI guidelines, I think I’d consider that a great short-term success. I set the goal for Christmas, but think I will be hitting sometime in the next month or so.

Longer term, I don’t have a goal just yet. I think it will be more in the 160-165 range, but I’m also hoping to start reducing some clothing sizes a bit too. I have quite a few nice Brooks Brother suits I wore while working in Washington and since those basically never go out of style, getting back down to a size where I can wear them again would be an accomplishment.

After I hit 175 I’m going to have a burger and fries to celebrate. Then we’ll start the downhill trek again and see how long it takes to get to my ideal weight and clothing size. Maybe it’s time for a standing desk?

UPDATE: Nov 1, 2013

Well this last four weeks have been pretty hard-core on the weight loss, in fact, probably too much. Part of the reason is likely the Fitbit. I understand it much better now and am using it frequently. The other is because I can finally count properly.

The Fitbit is a pedometer which is pretty simple and  has been around for quite some time. But where it starts to shine, and make a difference, is the fact it links together with the other programs I’m using, namely LoseIt, to provide me with a calorie “bonus” on days I’m particularly active.

Basically Loseit and Fitbit assume your body burns XX calories per hour, just to stay alive. When you walk a great deal with the Fitbit, over say 10,000 steps a day, then you start to burn more calories than your “normal” state that fills their assumption. As you walk more and more, you get a ‘Fitbit Adjustment’ in LoseIt which gives you extra calories to consume, should you so desire.

I’m now well below my calorie maximums everyday, such that a late night pizza slice or McDonald’s run wouldn’t drastically affect my overall trends. I haven’t been “eating back” the calories that I’m gaining, which is probably why I had a bit of a spike downward this month, but I have had the option which has made me feel a bit better in eating more regularly.

The other big shock this month is that I shrunk a bit. I’ve always put 5 foot 10 inches on my measurements, such as a drivers license, etc., but stepping onto scale with a measuring attachment the other day I discovered I’m really a solid 5’9″. That meant I had to reassess my BMI calculations, and my target goal dropped from 175.4 to 169.9. Grr! More work!

I’m down to 170.8 this morning, which is about 2 pounds lost per week this last month (which is too much, to be honest). I’m nearing my new BMI goal of 169.9 and I think my final weight range is going to be 160-165 or so. I want to keep it in the “normal” range for my weight so I can go up and down a bit as needed. Officially the normal range is 125-169 which puts the midpoint around 150-155, but I think that would just be too much for my frame.

The last ten pounds have had an significant visual effect. Many people have come up and stopped me and said “are you losing weight”. It’s quite noticeable now whereas the first 20 or so weren’t even noticed by the people in my house. It’s also starting to be noticeable with my clothes, which are about a size too big now. I’ve had to go into the closet and find the “old” stuff that might fit a bit better.

 

Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 10.02.48 AM

 

 

So a little musical number that really goes well with the title of this post.

“I Just Spent Six Months Without Diet Coke.”

Sing along.

 

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Screen Shot 2013-05-24 at 3.14.04 PM

My Cutting Cable TV guide

So if you’ve found this page you are probably interested in cutting the cable TV service but still having access to your favorite television programs.  You’re in luck, because with recent developments in the world of IPTV there is MORE to watch on the Internet than you could ever hope from your local television company.

This step-by-step guide should get you started. There are some things you can do without if you want, but this is some of the basics of cutting cable TV and saving quite a bit of money.

1) What kind of TV do you have?

Most importantly, what type of connections do you have on the back of your TV.  For most of you, you will find any/some of the following:

  1. HDMI (best and most common on TVs < 5 years old)
  2. DVI (good and common on TVs <10 years old without HDMI)
  3. Component (Red/White/Yellow/Green/Blue. Common on HD tv’s)
  4. RCA (Red/White/Yellow, common on TV’s before HD)
  5. S-Video (Yellow circular plug, somewhat common on TV’s before HD)
  6. Coaxial / SCART (Basically standard on all TV’s in the last 25 years).

An HDMI connector will look like this:


 

 

 

 

 

A DVI connector and cord will look like this:

 

dvi_d_socket 111dvi dvi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2) What are you going to connect to the TV?

You have a wide range of devices you can connect to your TV.  First, and probably easiest, is an old computer that you might have lying around, such as a laptop you no longer need or a desktop. Find a place for it behind the television and connect it via the HDMI or DVI ports.

Other options include what are known as “streaming devices”. Apple TV is an example of a streaming device, as is the Roku and Western Digital Live devices. These connect to your home network and then to the net to bring you content from all over the world. I personally prefer a Mac Mini as it gives me more options for content to watch.

If you do opt for an old computer, you should consider buying a wireless keyboard and a mouse, or more preferably a trackpad. Why a trackpad? It looks better on your couch and it doesn’t get as thrown around / beat up as a mouse.

And as strange as it sounds, there is a great deal of content that is “over the air” for free. You should consider attaching an antenna to your TV to pull in a number of free signals from the major networks, PBS, and the independent channels in your area. Because cable companies compress the quality of the HD signal over their lines, you may found that HD over the air is actually clearer than what you were getting with cable.  To see what signals you can get over the air, check out the broadcasters Antenna Web site and input your details.

 3) What are you going to watch?

This is where it gets fun, and this is also where you start to make a change in your viewing habits.

With a standard TV, you can turn it on and just leave it running, flipping channels as you feel like it seeking out some content. But when you make the switch to Internet TV, you find yourself watching only “what you want to watch” rather than having television on as an ambient background noise. Sure you can put on a stream and have it run all day, but generally you’ll find yourself turning it on and off as needed.

You can start by getting some sort of media management program. You can use iTunes to download and rent movie and TV shows, or you can look into some other media management tools like Plex or the open source XBMC. You can also use your web browser and look through sites like:

  • Netflix
  • Hulu
  • Amazon Video
  • ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox
  • A&E, Discovery, History Channel, etc.

For live television, you can find streams on many of the websites for television stations, but you can also look at streaming specific apps like Livestation and LiveStream, but also sites like JustinTV and UStreamTV.

There are also what are known as peer-to-peer streaming apps, some of which have content that is not copyright safe but still stuff you would like to watch.  PPTV and Sopcast are examples of these programs.

4) Going International

There are literally dozens of channels from around the world that have streaming content available, such as the BBC iPlayer and the ABC (Australia) Player. However, many of these are geographically restricted to people who have an IP address in that country.

To get around this, you need a VPN or DNS redirection service. While there are a few you can find for free, if you really want higher quality, you should consider paying for a service like Overplay.net.  This gives you a VPN to over 65 countries and can open up a whole world of content no matter where you are living. For example here in Hong Kong I’m streaming BBC 1 ‘Breakfast’ as I type this article.

 

Screen Shot 2013-05-24 at 3.14.04 PM

 

 

Read more about my adventures with IPTV as a replacement for cable by searching here.

http://penguinsix.com/?s=iptv

Read about cutting cable and going fully online for your television.

 

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Elegant Hydroponic solutions.

The other night at the Hong Kong Hackerspace DimSumLabs I gave a quick two-minute presentation on some of the more ‘elegant’ solutions for hydroponic growing that I had found. With a wife who would literally kill me if I was to install a “bunch of tubes” of PVC in the house, I’ve been on the lookout for something more consumer friendly and visually appealing.  It’s actually been a bit surprising how little is really out there, and nice to see some DIY projects starting to recognize the need for something a bit prettier than PVC.

The first thing I found was an Ikea hack called Eliooo. There are several different varieties using standard off the shelf Ikea products, primarily the TROFAST system.

ikea1 ikea2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I like this solution as it falls within my price point (next to free) but doesn’t look like a bunch of tubes.  I also have a number of TROFAST lying around the house (kids’ toy boxes). I may end up building the one with rolling casters as that would suit my small house well and I could move it in and out of the sunlight as needed.

At a bit higher end, there is this Urban Cultivator project.This looks more like something I’d put in my kitchen (if I had the space) or a product I’d like to build myself. I’ve actually talked to a few home appliance manufacturers in China about repurposing a ‘dorm fridge’ or a ‘wine fridge’ as a hydroponic facility.  Urban Cultivator actually makes a home and kitchen version, which is pretty impressive.

kc-ex2 cultivator cc-front

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the nice things about this unit is that it has a built in computer system to handle most of the growing process.  You can see it in action in the video from the company.

 

The final, and probably most impressive unit, comes from the prototype department at Philips, which is both a good and a bad thing. It’s good in the sense that the big boys are seriously looking at home hydroponic solutions, and that they have put some serious thought and design effort into building something incredibly beautiful, but it’s bad news in the sense that it’s from Philips. Something this cool and impressive will never come from a big behemoth company that will have 100s of employees and bean counters fighting for some way to kill the project instead of a few dozen pushing it. Still, it’s nice to look at:

 

biosphere

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5 ways to simplify your life

1) Stop getting dressed.

Steve Jobs, William F. Buckley, Larry Ellison, Bill Gates, and a massive number of bankers and lawyers.  What do they have in common? They all, basically, wear the same thing everyday. Steve Jobs was famous for his turtlenecks and jeans, and bankers and lawyers are always in charcoal grey with white shirts and a colored tie. Of course it isn’t the exact same item they are wearing day-in-day-out, but they are wearing ‘something’ that means they no longer have to worry about what they wear everyday. They can literally grab the first thing that comes out of the closet and put it on, ending the ‘decision’ period of what to wear, what to wear that goes on daily. Even if you spend only a minute a day deciding what to wear, you are wasting six hours a year.

You can even take it a bit further. If you find something you like, or that is not very important, such as underwear or socks, consider buying in bulk.  I have 30 pairs of black socks and 20 pairs of white socks, all the same. I have not matched socks in over 10 years.  Why? Because every sock matches every other.   I have 30 pairs of underwear.  I have 6 pairs of khaki pants and 6 pairs of black pants. I have two pairs of dress shoes (identical).

I just don’t care, and no one really notices. The reality is that unless you are working in the fashion industry, the vast majority of people wouldn’t notice if you wore the same thing daily, unless it started to smell.

Black and white socks (and wicked exposure problem with the camera)

Black and white socks (and wicked exposure problem with the camera)

 

2) Automate as much as possible.

Amazon Prime is one of the greatest inventions in history. Why? Because it allows for ‘subscriptions’ of many day-to-day items that we use.

It is ridiculous to buy at a retail store any of the following:  soap, shampoo, razors, shaving cream, q-tips, toilet paper, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, sponges, dishwasher soap, laundry detergent, and many other household items. Why? Because the chances are you are ‘done’ deciding what brand to buy. You are set in your choices for these items and buying them is simply a matter of grabbing them and putting them in the cart, or maybe shopping around slightly to find a better price. You are not shopping–you are simply engaged in the logistical operation of getting certain goods to your house.

Automate this. Automate and NEVER think about this again. Have a delivery of these items brought to you every week. The time you will save will be significant, but you will also avoid the “emergency shampoo”.

In the course of a year, there will come a day when you need to make an emergency purchase of any of the above items. You have a meeting and you are out of toothpaste, or shampoo or whatever. This necessitates a run to the store, parking in the lot, walking in the store, buying something, and then driving back home again to take care of whatever it was. This can be quite a long time, and you’ll probably spend more than a dollar or two just on gas.

Automate the simple things. Get them out of your hair now and don’t think about it anymore.

3) Compartmentalize your media.

Consuming media can lead to a state of media gluttony–overloaded and overstressed. If you are a media junkie, the new tools of the Internet allow you far too much access to far too much interesting content. This can consume your preciously needed free time.

But if you step back, you start to realize very little of the consumption is ‘active’–it’s more passive and becomes very habit forming. Like eating french fires because they are there when you order a Big Mac, not because you really wanted them. The TV is on with noise, the radio, the net, email, messengers, etc.  These ambient media sources come in and out of your day to life causing tremendous stress.

One of the best things you can do is to cut cable tv.  Get rid of the 1000s of channels you don’t need so you find yourself focusing on the ones you really want. Turn off e-mail notifications.  Use email rules to filter so much of the noise out before it arrives. Consider subscribing in paper to a newspaper instead of reading online (and getting distracted).

This was probably the toughest for me. I haven’t mastered it by any stretch.

4) Move to work, or work to you.

Commuting sucks. You probably think of the time spent getting to work as the actual time spent in your car, but the true ‘door-to-door’ time can actually be quite a bit longer. Waits in the parking garage, the time it takes to go down three escalators in the subway. Long commutes–heck any commute becomes this block of time in which you can do nothing but travel to and from your job. The time spent commuting is one of the biggest financial and time wastes of your life.

Moving closer to work, or working from home if that is an option, saves weeks per year. Weeks per year. Commuting can be one of the most expensive taxes you pay, not only in money on your transit but in the time wasted.

Sometimes this requires a career change, but the reality is that very few of us are in such specialized professions that there is “no other option”.

5) Declutter and Centralize

Have you ever looked for your keys? Your glasses? Your wallet? This is wasted time.

Have a centralized location for things you need every day. Glasses, keys, wallet, phone and any other item that is a ‘must-have’ every day you head out.

There is no need for paper for a vast majority of items. One of the best things I did was buy a sheet-fed automatic scanner to process receipts, letters, Christmas Cards, bills,–whatever comes across my desk and clogs things up. This is what I bought Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 Scanner for PC and Mac (PA03656-B005)  I now scan basically everything and minimize the paper shuffle going on my desk. 

Take a look around your room.  Anything you have not touched in the last 60 days should go to a place where it is not visible. Sorted into a closet or put away so as not to clutter your brain.  Items you haven’t used in 12 months should be pitched. This goes not only for computer parts lying around that you are afraid to throw away, but clothes as well (getting back to the first point on my list).

 

 

Anyway, these are just a few random thoughts.  What are your tips?

 

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Raising kids: sometimes doing it wrong is right

Christmas this year had many of the usual suspects under the tree.  Soccer ball, LEGO Ninjago, some dominoes (my son wanted them), an Arsenal lunchbox & calendar & playing cards & jersey, and for the big ticket item this year a Scalextrix set that we’ve only played with a couple of times since Christmas (the kids are still a bit young and dad doesn’t want the cars to keep breaking, despite their immense joy whenever they crash together).

Let it dry before you paint it.

Let it dry before you paint it.

One other addition, unrequested, under the tree was an AirFix Spitfire.  My oldest is now six and I can remember that when I was six I got some models too (I had the Apollo-Soyuez Space Capsule model for my sixth birthday, and no I don’t remember it–I just saw the photograph in an album). My kids hadn’t a clue what an Airfix was. When I opened it they were both a bit bummed that it wasn’t already completed and ready to play with.  “You mean we have to build it?”  Clearly their iPad-affected attention span was going to have some difficulty with this one.

But for me, this was a chance at redemption.  I’ve built dozens of model planes in my day, and never, not once, has the thing I made look anything even remotely like the picture on the box. I simply didn’t have the patience skills to make it look anything like an official plane.  But now with my kids–that would change.  We’d take the time, do it right. I even took out my ‘third hand’ tool from my electronics shop to hold the planes and let the glue dry without my fingerprints working their way into the plastic (as it did so many times before). I bought the officially color-schemed paint, more or less, and special brushes.  I even bought some paint thinner (interesting side note–it came in an empty beer bottle–it’s a Hong Kong thing).

The instructions had about 35 pieces or so and 35 steps.  By step 5 I knew this just wasn’t going to work.

Not exactly RAF Specification Paint

Not exactly RAF Specification Paint

The youngest was already bored and the oldest was doing his best to feign interest.  We got the little pilot into his seat and let it dry while we started working on the fuselage, but by the time we got to the wings the youngest was on the floor playing with his LEGOs and the oldest was berating me with “what’s it do?  what’s it do?” to which my answer of “nothing” didn’t quite satisfy him.

I eventually got the planes done and let the glue dry for a few hours before uncracking the paint.  This is where the kids were a bit more excited.  I guess the fact that they could see the results of what they were doing, i.e. colors on the plane, meant they were far more interested in doing it.  They started with the green and began slopping it on the models (slopping is the only proper word).  I was a bit annoyed as I realized that these planes would soon look like my airplanes when I was six years old.

But then I figured it out–they’re supposed to look that way. It’s supposed to look like a six year old did it. They are supposed to have fun in the process of building it and, if they even care, feel a bit annoyed that it doesn’t look like the box when done. That’s how they learn, that’s how they strive to get better.

So I quickly gave up on trying to match the specific ‘blotches’ of camouflage on the wings.  Son #2 decided that the entire plane should be brown and son #1 was just doing ‘the outside bits’ in green.  When finished, it looked like a mess, but the boys were both extremely happy with them.  Son #2 even decided to add a bit of Glitter Glue to his “so it would be easier to see in the sky”.  The planes now hang over their beds, awaiting the other members of the squadron that will come later in life.

Sometimes letting them do something ‘wrong’ is the best way to get it ‘right’ I guess.

So the RAF used Glitter Glue. Maybe.

So the RAF used Glitter Glue. Maybe.

 

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